Basketball: Trojans begin Brazil prep

So it's not Midnight Madness, or even October.

But USC's taking advantage of a special allotment of 10 NCAA-allowed practices leading up to a trip to Brazil next month, beginning with an intense 2.5-hour session Thursday on the upstairs courts at the Galen Center.

Why the upstairs?

The band Blink-182 has the main arena court occupied for the next few days while it prepares for a nationwide tour beginning next week.

As for the basketball being played, the Trojans were sharp -- or about as sharp as you could expect three months prior to the 2011-2012 season opener. Newcomers Alexis Moore, Byron Wesley, Greg Allen and James Blasczyk weren't asked to do too much, only to give full efforts, Trojans coach Kevin O'Neill reminded them constantly.

And they did so. Moore, a 6-2 guard from Long Beach Poly, looked particularly well-rounded for a 17-year-old, displaying a smooth-to-20-feet jump shot, a solid handle and on-the-ball smarts. Blasczyk, the backup to fellow 7-foot phenom Dewayne Dedmon, ran the court with energy and rebounded well.

"It's been good, just getting to see them early on and getting them a chance to play," guard Jio Fontan said Thursday of the special practices. "For the freshmen, it's big. They get to play a little earlier than the rest of the freshmen around the country, so that'll help them out a lot."

All four newcomers plus six returners will make the trip to Brazil from Aug. 12-21. Incoming transfers Ari Stewart (Wake Forest) and Eric Wise (UC Irvine) will not be able to join them and cannot participate in the 10 special practices. Both players sat on the sidelines and watched the entire session, Stewart taking a ball onto the court and shooting on his own during a few water breaks.

USC will play at least three games in Brazil, against NBB squads Bauru, Paulistano and Flamengo. The Trojans are also attempting to schedule a scrimmage against the Brazilian national team for the in-between time. But O'Neill expects his team to lose most, if not all, of the games in South America. His 17-to-22-year-old players will be going head-to-head with players well into their 20's and 30's.

It's these times here in L.A. he's savoring.

"The practices are the most important part, and then we're going to get to play against some pro competition down there, which should be a very humbling experience for our team," O'Neill said Thursday. "If we lose every game we have in Brazil, I'll be cool with it, as long as we play hard and play our best."

The longest-tenured player on the USC team is now redshirt sophomore forward Evan Smith, the only member of the 2009 recruiting class who didn't ask for his release when Tim Floyd resigned that summer. But he's only played in seven games as a Trojan and scored 13 total points. Sophomore Maurice Jones leads the team in games played in a USC uniform with 34, one season's worth.

"This is the first time, since I've been here, that all the guys on the team are K.O.'s recruits," said Fontan, a Fordham transfer who arrived in December 2009, midway through O'Neill's first season on the job. "It's the beginning of a new era."

And, like little else in college basketball, it begins in July.